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Enter the Crypt as John "The Unimonster" Stevenson and his merry band of ghouls rants and raves about the current state of Horror, as well as reviews Movies, Books, DVD's and more, both old and new.

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07 February, 2009

2008 in Review

Yes, as hard as it is to believe, it has been twelve months since we last gathered to dissect the year’s best and worst, and it’s been a busy time since then. Change was the year’s buzzword, and life, at least for the Unimonster, underwent many changes, some not so good, but many for the better. The Unimonster’s Crypt was nominated for a Rondo Award as the best website of 2007, and I began a semi-regular video spot on http://www.theindychannel.com/ Off the Cuff web series. At the same time, several personal transitions meant that the Crypt has lain dormant for many months, a situation which, hopefully, has come to an end.

The genre world has undergone many transitions itself this past year. It was, as far as Fantasy films were concerned, the year of the Super-hero. From HANCOCK, to IRON MAN, to the critically-acclaimed block-buster THE DARK KNIGHT, costumed crime-fighters ruled the box-office, with the top three such films accounting for more than a Billion dollars of revenue alone. Science-Fiction was well represented too, with films such as CLOVERFIELD, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, and STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS on Box-Office Mojo’s (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/) List of the top—100 Grossing films of 2008.

Unfortunately however, Horror Films were particularly under-represented in the top—20, even the top—50. The abysmally dull TWILIGHT was the only “Horror Film” (and I use that term very loosely…) to crack the top—20, though the lackluster sequel THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR managed to place 21st. TWILIGHT earned an astonishing $183 Million, good enough for 7th place, no doubt all extracted from swooning “tweens” or their doting parents.

Of course, there were traditional Horror Films released last year. The rapidly declining SAW franchise sallied forth with it’s fifth (and hopefully last…) installment in October, and still managed a respectable 53rd place, with nearly $57 Million in the bank. M. Night Shyamalan proved, finally, that he wasn’t just a one-trick pony with the somber environmental-revenge tale THE HAPPENING. Nowhere near the quality of THE SIXTH SENSE, it nonetheless exceeded my expectations for this director, who has built a career failing to outdo his block-buster debut.
Some things, it’s almost refreshing to see, have resisted the year’s overwhelming mantra of “Change”, most notably Hollywood producers. In other words, the reign of the Remake continues unabated, as Hollywood continues to pump out needless, imagination-free, poorly-executed rip-offs of great movies, good movies, and with last year’s remake of the 1980 Slasher film PROM NIGHT, even crappy movies. The original, notable only for a post-HALLOWEEN appearance by Jamie Leigh Curtis, was a true waste of celluloid. Why anyone should choose to remake it is beyond my understanding.

2008 was also the year we bid farewell to some of the most notable figures in the Genre. In January Malia Nurmi, TV’s Vampira, the first horror-host, passed away, as did Roy Scheider, Chief Brody in JAWS. Ben Chapman, who played the “Out-of-Water” Gill-Man in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON died in February, and Arthur C. Clarke, the famed Science-Fiction author, followed in March. The heartbreaker though was the death of Forry Ackerman in December, days after his 92nd birthday. Some of the joy left Horror Fandom with him.
Also in January, Heath Ledger, the young star of THE PATRIOT and A KNIGHT’S TALE, died of a drug overdose, shortly after completing filming on THE DARK KNIGHT, the sequel to Christopher Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS. The death of Ledger, who played the Joker in the Batman epic, fueled a media-driven perfect storm of hype that raged around the film until it’s premiere nearly seven months to the day after Ledger’s death. The result was a spectacular success for the film; one I must admit was wholly deserved.

2008 had, as all years do, it’s ups and downs, high and lows, joys and sorrows. It’s easy to think that they balance out, but in truth they never really do. There are years when the good outweighs the bad, and vice versa. This was a year when the bad unfortunately held sway over the good.

But now it’s 2009, and here I sit, classic movie in the player and single-malt scotch in hand. But before I get too deep into year, movie, or drink, let’s examine some of the good, and bad, that has gone before.


1.) Surprise of the Year:
a. THE INCREDIBLE HULK
b. THE EYE
c. The Success of THE DARK KNIGHT
d. The Crypt’s Nomination for a Rondo Award
e. Svengoolie Losing to Penny Dreadful for Horror-Host of the Year Rondo

It takes a lot to surprise the old Unimonster these days… and at my age, surprises are rarely good things. But when a very good friend e-mailed me last January to inform me that the new Rondo ballots were out, and that the Unimonster’s Crypt had received a nomination in the category Best Website or Blog, I could not have been more pleasantly shocked had a flying monkey dropped a bag of cash on my head. Never had I anticipated such recognition; certainly not after a mere few months of operation. It may be considered a cliché to say it’s an honor just being nominated… believe me, though, when I say it is an honor, a magnificent one, and one I will never forget.

Equally shocking to me, especially after its Ang Lee-directed predecessor, was THE INCREDIBLE HULK. I had no intention of seeing this movie; I was never a fan of the Hulk (I was a DC Comics man, myself…) and based on the first film, felt no desire to subject myself to another wasted two hours. Then an advance copy of the DVD was sent to me to review.
Unable to find a valid excuse to avoid it any longer, I popped it in the player and sat back to endure what I was sure would be a deplorable sequel to an incredibly bad film. Then the surprise happened.

About a third of the way through, I began to realize I was enjoying this movie… and not just a little. It was everything the first had not been: Intelligently written; well-directed; well-acted; and most of all, interesting. I actually cared about what was happening in the film, and about the characters. I wanted to see how it resolved itself. The movie involved me, and more importantly it entertained me… two things the first failed to do entirely.

Another movie that surprised me last year was David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s Americanized remake of the Pang Brothers’ Hong Kong Horror import, JIAN GUI. THE EYE, starring Jessica Alba and Alessandro Nivola, came nowhere near JIAN GUI’s simple, stylish originality and beautiful execution, instead using a massive special effects budget to replace those qualities. Still, enough of the original was left intact to make this a good, if not great, ghost film. Frankly, I was expecting much less from it, and am pleased to say it exceeded those expectations.

One movie that did not surprise me, at least in terms of it’s quality, was THE DARK KNIGHT. Christopher Nolan’s second outing as the designated Batman director promised to outdo his first, and I was eagerly anticipating it as soon as it was announced. However, the storm of hype that accompanied the death of Heath Ledger, who had just completed his work as the Joker on the film, meant that everyone was now anticipating the release of this film. This equated to enormous interest in the movie, interest that carried over as people began spreading the news that it truly was a great movie, not just a morbid opportunity to view a dead celebrity’s final performance.

But what surprised me the most happened when the winners of the Rondo Awards were announced. The one category I was watching the closest, (except perhaps for the one I was nominated in…) was the Horror-Host of the Year, and, as I repeatedly mentioned in this column, I was actively supporting Chicago’s Svengoolie, aka Rich Koz. Rich’s work over the nearly thirty years since he first assumed the mantle of the great Jerry G. Bishop, continuing as first the Son of Svengoolie, then becoming Svengoolie, is simply too important to ignore; I felt certain that the Rondo voters would see fit to grant him the recognition he so well deserved.

Don’t misunderstand me; I like Penny Dreadful—a lot. I’ve reviewed her program twice, and heartily recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to see it. Any other year, I would have happily cheered her win. But for the first Horror-Host Rondo, I couldn’t help thinking that Svengoolie deserved it just a little more.


2.) Disappointment of the Year:
a. THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR
b. INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL
c. CLOVERFIELD
d. The continued failure of the Effort to secure a Star on the Hollywood Walk-of-Fame for Jack Pierce

I was one of the few monster fans, it seems, who didn’t rush to theaters to see CLOVERFIELD when it debuted last January. I didn’t even buy the DVD when it first hit the street. It wasn’t that I was uninterested, or put off by the stories of people getting ill from the shaky camera-work. It’s just that I had one overwhelming image in my mind: That of an evil film editor somehow merging the 1998 Roland Emmerich GODZILLA, bad as it was, with one of the crappiest concepts ever to float down the sewer, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.

Finally though, the DVD found it’s way into the 4 for $20 bargain bin at my neighborhood Blockbuster, and I could resist it no longer. I hoped that the movie would manage to better my expectations; alas, it could not.

It wasn’t that it was a bad movie; it simply wasn’t an interesting one. Even with an inordinately short run time (less than 85 minutes…) I found myself waiting for it to creep to its inevitable climax, one which was completely telegraphed by the very design of the production. The idea of a giant monster rampaging through New York is a great one, one that I would love to see done well. Next time though… let us actually see the monster.

Last year marked the return to the screen of one of my favorite franchises, with the release of INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. I anxiously awaited this new adventure, hoping that it would recapture the same energy, feel, and spirit that made the original trilogy so great.

Now, I don’t wish to give the impression that I didn’t like this movie, or that it wasn’t worth the wait. Frankly I loved it; it is, as you’ll see later, one of my nominees for Movie of the Year. But it would be equally incorrect to say that it was as good as the earlier films. The leads, Harrison Ford and Karen Allen, also reprising her role from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, are superb and right in character; most of the supporting cast, however, is not. Especially mis-cast is Shia LaBeouf as the unwitting child of Indy and Marion. The plot works well enough, though it seems a little too fantastical, even for an Indiana Jones movie.

The overall impression I was left with, though, was that, while this was an enjoyable film, and a fitting conclusion to the Indiana Jones franchise, it was a franchise that has reached the end. It might be argued that this entry in the series was unnecessary; that seeing our hero as an old man might not be the best way to remember him. All I know is that whatever it was that I hoped to find in this film was somehow lacking, and my enjoyment of it was tinged with a measure of disappointment that even Indiana Jones can grow old.

There was one movie about which I have no ambivalence. As an ardent fan of the Stephen Sommers’ Mummy franchise, I had been eagerly awaiting a third installment. That eagerness vanished as more and more information about the production came out. By the date of the movie’s release in August, any expectations I had for the film had been washed away by the absence of key personnel, both in front of and behind the camera, and a nonsensical relocation of the story to China. I wish I could say that the result, Rob Cohen’s THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR was better than I expected. Instead it failed to meet even the absurdly low bar I had set for it.

Over the past decade, one man has worked tirelessly to bring honor and recognition to someone who stands as a victim of the Hollywood Studio-system of the ‘30’s and ‘40’s. Scott Essman has struggled to inform people of the debt that Modern Horror owes to this man, Jack P. Pierce.
Pierce, head of Universal’s make-up department from 1930 to 1947, created the Monsters as we know them. He was responsible for the look of Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, and the Wolf-Man. When we watch a classic Universal Horror Film from the ‘30’s or ‘40’s, we are seeing Pierce’s work brought to life in the persona of those creatures which so captivate horror fans, and have for 75 years.

And Essman has been working to bring some measure of acknowledgment to Pierce’s memory, in the form of a Star on Hollywood’s Walk-of-Fame. While there are obstacles to this, the largest is financial; the $20,000 or so that this would require, in direct costs. Universal, an entity which has profited off the work of this man for decades both before and after his death, should willingly volunteer the funds to make this happen. Instead, while they’re quite willing to continue marketing the Monsters shamelessly, they’re equally content to continue to show Jack Pierce the same respect and regard their predecessors demonstrated during his lifetime... in other words, none at all.

In 1947, following a long tenure as head of the studio’s make-up department, a job given to him by Carl Laemmle on the basis of a handshake, without a contract, Universal fired Pierce as unceremoniously as taking out the trash. Pierce died in 1968, remembered by few as the man who made the Monsters.

Recently, many in the Horror community have taken up Essman’s cause, campaigning to bring this belated tribute to Pierce. In a small way, the Crypt has been part of this effort, in the form of an on-line petition that gathered thousands of signatures asking that Universal honor their long-past-due debt to Pierce.

Sadly these efforts once more fell on deaf ears at the studio. We won’t give up, but the failure to see justice done in this case is indeed my biggest disappointment.


3.) The “What the Hell was THAT?” Award:
a. FEAST II: SLOPPY SECONDS
b. CLOVERFIELD
c. TWILIGHT
d. THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR
e. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

Remakes are dicey things at best, because no matter how good the remake may be, it can seldom compare to the original, and there will always be those to whom said original is perfect, untouchable, perhaps nearly sacred. While I hold no such affection for the 1951 film THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, I do respect the film for the quality of Robert Wise’s direction, and the stellar performances from Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal. More respect than is shown to it by the producers, director, and star of the abysmal remake of it.

The original, a classic of the Sci-Fi Genre, dealt with an alien visitor trying to convince Earthlings to adopt pacifism before it was too late. To prove his power, he stopped Earth… for one hour nothing mechanical or electrical functioned anywhere on Earth. While simplistic and preachy, it was an effective, well-scripted film, and helped establish many of the conventions that Genre films would follow for the next decade. The remake casts the ever-annoying Keanu Reeves in the Michael Rennie role, and instead of preaching pacifism, he’s the answer to the fervent prayers of radical environmentalists everywhere, as he begins destroying everything that is the product of Man, in order to once more make the Earth a pristine paradise. The script lacks both the intelligence and sensitivity of the original, trying to make up for it with huge Special Effects sequences and supposed star-power. And it worked… to a point. Anyone impressed with Keanu Reeves isn’t likely to miss the intelligent screen-writing anyway.

Sequels too are veritable minefields for filmmakers, for many of the same reasons. Rarely do sequels provide the same enjoyment that their parent films’ do; often, they aren’t even in the same area code as their predecessors. The first sequel to Stephen Sommers’ 1999 block-buster THE MUMMY, 2001’s THE MUMMY RETURNS, was that rarest of creatures, a sequel that actually bettered the first. For years, fans of the series eagerly awaited a third film; eagerness that was tempered to a large degree when news began to filter out that a second sequel was actually in the works. First came a statement from Rachel Weisz that she would not be involved in a third film; then the announcement that Sommers would not be helming the production. By the time it was announced that the movie would be set in China instead of returning to familiar Egyptian surroundings, even we die-hard fans had given up hope for the film. And, as I said before, we were proven correct.

Another sequel, one that instead lived up to the standard set by it’s predecessor, was FEAST II: SLOPPY SECONDS. I’m not quite sure if it was a Horror Film that wanted to be a Comedy, or a Comedy that aspired to Horror. I can tell you that it’s gross, disgusting, offensive, perverted… and one helluva great, fun ride. It’s definitely not for everyone; even most horror fans might find it way over-the-top. But I loved it. As much as it frightens me to say, Jon Gulager might be around for awhile.

As noted earlier, CLOVERFIELD was one of the true disappointments of the year; not because of what it was, but what it could have been. I don’t mind a few unanswered questions, but to watch an entire movie and not have a clue about what transpired therein is simply poor filmmaking. Cinema verite is fine for documentarians; for a scripted, feature-length film it’s more commonly referred to as a lack of imagination.

But the one movie that had me scratching my head the most last year was the Vampiric paean to teen angst and adolescent female hormones, TWILIGHT. I’m sure, in some brightly lit corridor of power in far-off Hollywood, a movie about teen vampires who don’t drink blood might make sense. In terms of Box-Office dollars it certainly did, earning close to $183 Million. In terms of Horror, however, it truly sucked… but not in the way it should.


4.) First Annual Induction to the Crypt of the Unimonster’s Catacomb of Distinction (Charter Members):
a. Boris Karloff
b. Bela Lugosi
c. James Whale
d. Lon Chaney
e. Edgar Allan Poe
f. Peter Cushing
g. Jack P. Pierce
h. Terence Fisher
i. Fay Wray
j. Lon Chaney, Jr.
k. Forrest J Ackerman
l. Vincent Price
m. Peter Lorre
n. Evelyn Ankers
o. H. P. Lovecraft

As part of the renovations recently undertaken (no pun intended…) on the Crypt, I discovered a long-forgotten Catacomb buried underneath my movie vault. After some thought, I decided that this would be a superb place to honor those notables of the genre who have ‘moved on’, so to speak.

These inductions are listed in no particular order, nor are these all who are deserving of this recognition. This is simply the initial class of inductees; more will join in future years, I assure you. The Catacomb of Distinction has a lot of room, and it will take more years than I have remaining to fill it up.


5.) Comeback of the Year:
a. Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, in INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL

It had been 19 years since Harrison Ford had last donned the battered fedora and leather jacket of Indiana Jones, and I for one was unsure about his decision to return to the franchise. While I had no desire to see anyone else in the role, I wasn’t quite ready to see the Geritol® version of one of my favorite Cinema heroes. As it turned out, though he was no longer the same man he had been in the ‘80’s, he still had one good adventure left in him.

The movie wasn’t perfect, and the rest of the cast, with the exception of Karen Allen, pretty much missed the mark, but as far as Indiana Jones was concerned, Ford was dead on target.


6.) Comeback we’d Most Like to See:
a. Godzilla in a new Toho production
b. THE BLACK CAT, in a 75th Anniversary Legacy Edition from Universal Studios Home Entertainment
c. Original Horror Films instead of countless remakes and sequels
d. Stephen Sommers and Rachel Weisz to the MUMMY franchise

Do you remember the days when a screenwriter would sit down in front of a beat-up old Royal typewriter, with nothing more than a ream of blank paper and his or her imagination, and create a movie? Well, apparently neither does Hollywood, as original films have become as rare as registered Republicans in Chicago. Remakes rule the roost, and if they aren’t remaking one film it’s because they’re too busy filming a mindless sequel to another. Contrary to popular belief, talent is not the commodity in shortest supply in Hollywood; imagination and originality both are far scarcer.

One sequel that was amply demonstrative of this fact was THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR. Though Rob Cohen and team did try to inject a little originality into the series by relocating it to China, the injection was way off-target. Still a competent script, capable direction, and a female lead with a little personality might have rescued this film. Unfortunately, the man and woman responsible for those qualities in the first two films were absent from this one.

Stephen Sommers wrote and directed both 1999’s THE MUMMY, and 2001’s THE MUMMY’S RETURN, and did an excellent job crafting characters and storylines that were involving, intelligent, and witty; infusing them with a superb sense of humor. As director, he guided the production flawlessly, while exhibiting the ability not to take the material too seriously. Cohen lacks either the ability to do so or the sensibility to do so; either way, it’s obvious that he certainly was the wrong choice to replace Sommers.

Nearly as bad, and far more noticeable, was the decision of Rachel Weisz to opt out of the third installment of the franchise. Weisz shared with co-star Brendan Fraser an almost perfect chemistry; as well as having a charm and attractiveness that sets her apart from most actresses. These are traits that Maria Bello, the new Evelyn O’Connell, sorely lacks. She and Fraser have zero on-screen chemistry, and, with this Unimonster at least, zero likability. I’m not certain if $102 Million at the Box-Office is sufficient to guarantee yet another MUMMY film, but if the producers want it to earn more than that, it’s time for both Sommers and Weisz to return to the fold… oh yeah, and set the next one in some locale where they actually have mummies! Terra cotta warriors need not apply.

2009 marks the 75th anniversary of my favorite Universal Horror Film; indeed, my favorite Classic Horror Film—THE BLACK CAT. Edgar Ulmer’s masterpiece was the first, and the best, of Karloff and Lugosi’s screen pairings, and a delightfully decadent ‘thumb to the nose’ aimed at the Hays Office. Not even the censors understood what it was they were letting slip through… the director skillfully used nuance and innuendo to convey volumes of unspoken content to the viewer. One iconic, and especially effective, scene involves Karloff, in pajamas and robe and carrying the eponymous black cat, going from glass case to glass case, inspecting a variety of preserved female bodies enclosed within. As he pauses before the last case, a strange look crosses his face. He then puts the cat out and closes the door. The implication is as subtle as it is perverse, and reveals everything you need to know about Karloff’s character.

Though it has received a recent DVD release, on Universal’s Bela Lugosi Collection, I would love to see the studio celebrate it’s anniversary in the manner that it has the anniversaries of it’s other Horror classics, and in a more timely fashion than it did THE MUMMY’s 75th.

But I must confess that the Comeback I’d most like to see happen is the Big G himself, Godzilla. It has been five years since Toho ended the Millennium Era with GOJIRA: FAINARU UÔZU ~aka~ GODZILLA: FINAL WARS. That movie was a fitting end to that era’s story arc, and I had no problem with Toho declaring an end of that era. But certainly, I wasn’t ready to bid farewell to the giant monsters entirely… no way I could go off the Kaijû cold turkey!

They’ve had time to let the franchise rest, and now fans are ready to hear the big guy’s distinctive roar echo once more over Tokyo Bay. If the success of CLOVERFIELD proved anything, it’s that: 1.) Audiences are still hungry for giant, city-stomping monsters, and 2.) Nobody does it like Toho. Please gentlemen, please do it again.


7.) Heartbreak of the Year:
a. The Passing of Forry Ackerman

Last December the Father of Horror Fandom, Forrest J Ackerman, died at the age of 92. If you’re a MonsterKid of the ‘50’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s, then Forry was your Uncle, your mentor, your inspiration, and your friend.

Through his Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, he shared his love of the genre with thousands of young boys and girls, talking to us, not at us; communicating at our level, not condescending to it—and we loved him for that. Forry’s passing leaves a void that will not be filled in Genre Fandom; he was, in many ways, the last living link to the Golden Age of Horror Films. He had seen LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, the Holy Grail of ‘Lost Films’; he knew Boris and Bela, Lon and Peter; the man even owned a cape worn by Lugosi, and the Brontosaurus from KING KONG.

What made Forry special weren’t these mere facts, it was that he shared them with us. He invited us all to share in his love of the Fantastic; in the pages of his magazine, in the stories that he would tell, and in the way he would open the doors of his home to anyone willing to listen to an old man talk about his treasures.

There will never be another Forry, nor any like him. And the world is much poorer for that.


8.) DVD Release of the Year:
a. THE MIST 2-Disc Collector’s Edition
b. RODAN / WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS Double Pack
c. PIECES 2-Disc Collector’s Edition
d. THE MUMMY: Universal Legacy Series Special Edition
e. SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET 2-Disc Special Edition

One way to tell that 2007 was a decent year for Horror, was by observing the number of good DVD’s that started hitting stores in early 2008. Two of the 2007 films that received excellent treatment for the home market this past year were THE MIST and SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET.

THE MIST, based on a short story by Stephen King and directed by Frank Darabont, was one of the better movies of 2007, narrowly missing last year’s MOTY list. Universal Studios Home Entertainment, as always, did a superb job packaging this one for Home audiences, with a bonus disc full of special features, including something unique: A second, complete version of the film in black & white, as the director envisioned it. It does add measurably to the stark atmosphere of the film, and provides an interesting comparison with the theatrical version.

As to the film itself, it stands out as one of the best adaptations of King’s work since THE GREEN MILE, and Darabont’s best film, ever. The ending is difficult and disturbing, and not everyone will approve of it; and the underlying message of the film is pessimistic and, in my opinion, biased.

Personally speaking, I think it’s the only way the film could end, and not betray what has come before. Also, while I don’t agree with the message the film offers, and I feel that the film’s antagonist would have been more effective, and more believable, if she had been less of a caricature; there’s little doubt it was a tremendously well-done, frightening film.

Some of the undiscovered treasures of the genre are several Horror Films produced in England during the 1930’s featuring the aptly-named Tod Slaughter. Slaughter, who made a career out of playing villains in Victorian-style melodramas, starred in 1936’s SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET, a film based on a legendary, probably apocryphal, London murderer of that name.

When I first heard that Tim Burton was helming a project entitled SWEENEY TODD, and starring Johnny Depp, I naturally assumed that he was remaking the old Slaughter film. An odd choice, perhaps, but then Burton’s made a career out of odd choices. The casting of Johnny Depp as the Demon barber only heightened my interest, as I’ve become much more appreciative of his abilities as an actor in the last few years. Still, I must admit that it wasn’t very high on my radar for the year or so that it in production.

And then I saw the first trailer for the film. Whatever I may have expected from the usually brilliant collaboration of Burton and Depp, it certainly wasn’t what I got. I was shocked to see Depp bursting into song, in the ‘Epiphany’ production number from the film. Not having the least interest in musical theater, I had no idea that there was a long-running Broadway musical based on the story of Sweeney Todd, or that this was the source of Burton’s inspiration. I promptly put my interest in the project on the back burner—two hours of a singing, dancing, throat-slashing barber just wasn’t my idea of a good time. I thought little more of it until I picked up the DVD and decided to give it a try. While I’m no more a fan of musicals than I was before, I must admit that I was amazed by both the quality of the production and by the performance of the entire cast, especially Depp, Helena Bonham Carter as his murderous paramour, and Alan Rickman as the Judge responsible for the barber’s insane rage.

The DVD itself, from Dreamworks Home Entertainment, is one of the most beautifully packaged and produced sets to hit the shelves last year, and contains a wealth of features. Taken in concert with the superb movie contained therein, and it’s easily a contender for DVD Release of the Year.

Nor were classic films ignored last year. Classic Media continues to unearth treasures from Toho’s vaults, with the release of the double feature set containing two of the best Kaijû films ever made: SORA NO DAIKAIJÛ RADON ~aka~ RADON THE MONSTER OF THE SKY; RODAN (1956), and FURANKENSHUTAIN NO KAIJÛ: SANDA TAI GAIRA ~aka~ FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTERS: SANDA vs. GAIRA; WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966). Rodan has always been my favorite Kaijû, and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is a fondly remembered pleasure from childhood, recently rediscovered. As is the norm from Classic Media, you get both the original Japanese version of both films, as well as the edited and dubbed American releases. Anyone who loves the good, old-fashioned fun of the Rompin’, Stompin’, Rubber-suited Monsters of Japan owes it to themselves to check out this company’s line of classic Toho films.

One of the films made to cash in on the Grindhouse/Slasher craze in the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s was Juan Piquer Simon’s PIECES ~aka~ ONE THOUSAND CRIES HAS THE NIGHT. Reminiscent of a cheaply-done Italian Giallo, both in style as well as substance, it’s ultra-violent, ultra-sleazy, and ultra-fun; it’s always been a particular favorite of mine. Now thanks to Grindhouse Releasing, it’s out in a two-disc Collector’s set. The film has been beautifully restored, using the best available 35mm print for the transfer, and numerous bonus features have been added to the mix. One of these features is an interview with director Simon, aided by fellow Spanish filmmaker Nacho Cerda.

This is the type of movie that small distributors such as Grindhouse excel in finding and bringing to the horror-loving public. It might not be the year’s best-selling DVD, but it’s one that I’ve waited a long while to have, and it pleases me that the low-budget movies of the ‘80’s are getting a little attention from distributors.

There are many films that are important to the development of Horror as a genre, but there is only a handful that must justly be considered landmarks along the path of that development. One such landmark is Karl Freund’s 1932 classic THE MUMMY. 2007 marked the 75th anniversary of the film’s release, and I roundly castigated Universal for it’s failure to properly acknowledge and celebrate this occasion. I might have known that they were ‘delaying’ the festivities until they could serve as a product placement tie-in for the summer, 2008 release of THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR.

However, no matter… for whatever the reason, they finally did right by my favorite monster, and the delay doesn’t affect one’s ability to revel in one of Karloff’s finest performances, as well as an example of make-up artist Jack Pierce’s best creations. Both as the mummy of Im-Ho-Tep, and later as the rejuvenated, corpse-like Ardeth Bey, Pierce’s make-up serves to provide the perfect medium for Karloff’s acting to shine through.

So impressive was Pierce’s work in this film that Universal finally saw fit to include a tribute of some kind to the man responsible for creating the great Universal Monsters, with a documentary included in the DVD. JACK PIERCE: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT THE MONSTERS TO LIFE was produced by Scott Essman, the foremost expert on Pierce. Essman has devoted himself to insuring that Pierce gets the recognition he deserves for the importance of his contribution to film history, and this documentary is a major step towards that recognition. Much still remains to be done in this regard, but at least Universal is moving in the right direction.

Another area in which Universal needs to correct a long-standing deficit is the condition of the prints that they have used for the various DVD transfers over the past several years, THE MUMMY included. Though no one can expect perfection in 75-year-old film, more needs to be done than simply running the movie through a digital processor; a thorough, hands-on, physical restoration is badly needed on all the great Monster movies in Universal’s library. Obviously, Universal feels that, as long as the fans will continue to purchase the unrestored films nothing more need be done; this reviewer respectfully disagrees.

Still, this is a beautifully-done presentation of this great film, and even if late is a gratefully received tribute to this classic. It, along with it’s stablemates DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN, belongs in every collection, and I’m happy to name it the DVD Release of the Year.


9.) DVD Box Set of the Year:
a. Cinema Classics Collection: Charlie Chan, Vol. 4
b. The HALLOWEEN 30th Anniversary Commemorative Set

As most of the true goodies have already been dug out of the major studio’s vaults, really good candidates for release in multi-film box sets are beginning to thin out. Most of this year’s gems have come in the form of films already available that have been redressed and repackaged, hopefully providing a much better product in the process.

Anchor Bay has long been a friend to lovers of classic Horror Films, and last year they saw fit to honor one of the greatest genre movies of the last half of the 20th Century, with the HALLOWEEN 30th Anniversary Commemorative Set. This individually-numbered, limited-edition box set includes three separate versions of the original HALLOWEEN: A restored version; an extended version; and the Blu-Ray release of the film. Also included is HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS, HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS, and HALLOWEEN: 25 YEARS OF TERROR. All are packaged in a window-box display case designed to show off the real treat of the set, a full-size latex replica of Michael’s iconic mask. At a suggested retail of $90, it’s too pricey for the Crypt’s budget; and it would be nice to see a definitive box set that included all of the films, including HALLOWEEN II and HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH. Still, this is a great collection, and it’s definitely on my list of ‘Needful Things’.

But in terms of sheer desirability to the Unimonster, no set last year came close to the Charlie Chan Box Set, Volume Four, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Featuring four classic Charlie Chan mysteries starring Sidney Toler, these are films I grew up watching, and loving, on Saturday afternoons. Long absent from the airwaves over concerns about ethnic stereotyping, Fox has been releasing these movies at a slow but steady pace over the past few years, finally answering the clamor of fans of this great series. The four films that make up this volume might not be the inscrutable inspector’s best, but they are certainly appreciated. They are: CHARLIE CHAN IN HONOLULU; CHARLIE CHAN IN RENO; CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND; and CHARLIE CHAN IN CITY IN DARKNESS.

Speaking as a dedicated Chanophile, it pleases me no end that these fine films are once more available to be seen. I applaud Fox’s efforts to open their vaults to a public hungry for quality entertainment, and their recognition that, to quote an earlier column of mine, “It’s important that we remember these films, that we not allow these types of movies to become lost to us. When you cut people off from the historical records of the mistakes that they or their ancestors made, you also remove the instructive value of those mistakes. Aphorisms come into being for a reason, and one of the best is “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” If we are allowed to forget just how ugly prejudice can be, how can we remember to work against it?”
For that reason, as much as the inherent attraction of the set itself, Charlie Chan Vol. 4 is my choice as DVD Box Set of the Year.


10.) TV Series of the Year:
a. LIFE ON MARS
b. MEDIUM
c. GHOST HUNTERS
d. MONSTERQUEST

Though Horror isn’t the hot television commodity it was even a few years ago, there are still vestiges to be found, especially on Cable networks hungry for programming choices. One of the most unlikely sources of Horror-themed programming has always been the History Channel. With series such as Haunted History and History’s Mysteries, and specials such as the Haunted History of Halloween, THC has long been a refuge for those seeking a little blood-curdling infotainment. This welcome tradition is continuing with the series MonsterQuest.

Each episode investigates a particular monster of legend, such as Bigfoot, Champ, or the Jersey Devil. Each is subjected to a thorough historical analysis, scientific investigation, and recreations of reported encounters. All that’s lacking is Leonard Nimoy’s narration, and it would be perfect!
For a few years now, the SciFi Channel has had one of the best genre related programs extant with Ghost Hunters. Following a group of amateur ghost hunters on their investigations might not sound very interesting, and admittedly at first, the amount of time spent focusing on the drama away from the actual haunting was a detriment, but later seasons put the focus squarely on the investigations. Also, as the group’s fame and reputation has grown, so has the scope of their investigatory interest. At first limiting themselves to local, New England sites, recently they’ve expanded their travels to the rest of the U.S. and even overseas. The result is a much more satisfying show.

Since it’s debut, NBC’s Medium has been one of the most original, entertaining programs on network TV, bar none. Blessed with a superb cast, led by Patricia Arquette, Jake Weber, and David Cubitt, each episode is a well-crafted look at the life of a woman who, quite literally, speaks with the dead… and they with her.

The charm of the show is that the problems of dealing with three young daughters are treated with equal importance as the problems of dealing with the souls of the restless. The day-to-day existence of Allison Dubois, Arquette’s character, doesn’t stop just because she’s made privy to the tortured last moments of the murder victims she seeks to help. Allison and her husband Joe (Weber) are real people, people who worry about money, worry about their kids, about work, about check-ups, and tune-ups, and the thousand little things that families do. The reality of the program balances the supernatural aspects of it perfectly, making it one of the best genre shows ever produced.

But my choice for TV Series of the Year, one of my favorite shows on network TV right now, and the best new show anywhere, is ABC’s Life on Mars. Part police drama, part time-traveling Sci-Fi, part existential nightmare, the show focuses on Sam Tyler, played by Jason O’Mara. Tyler, a NYPD detective, is struck by a hit-and-run driver on a New York City street… in 2008. He awakens 35 years before, in 1973. His clothes are changed, his car is changed, his hairstyle has changed… even his badge and department ID has changed. Only he’s the same person, with the same memories, and the knowledge that he’s out of place… virtually on another world.

A large part of the attraction of the show lies in Sam’s pursuit of the answer to the mystery of what has happened to him, and in his efforts to both fit in and find some measure of happiness in his new world. Nothing is easy for him… from finding his way around a city that is so similar and yet so different; to conducting investigations without the scientific and forensic tools that are so much a part of the modern police arsenal. Nor are his colleagues easily relatable; theirs is a different era of policing, with different standards of what constitutes acceptable behavior. He is actively encouraged to beat confessions out of suspects when he knows they’re guilty; plant evidence if that’s the only way to get a conviction; and to turn his head if a fellow cop is a little wrong on a bust. His precinct, the “1-2-5”, has no black or female detectives, and the precinct’s only policewoman has been nicknamed “No-Nuts” by the male officers.

Each case, each encounter, has the potential to add another piece to the puzzle of Sam’s existence… and which is his reality, the one wherein he’s living now, or the one in which he believes he belongs? Has he time-shifted? Is this simply a hallucination brought on by the hit-and-run? Could he be part of some alien experiment? Might he even be dead, and trapped in what is his own personal Hell? Each week, backed up by a fine ensemble cast including Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli, and Gretchen Mol, he searches for the answer—and for a way to belong.

I hope he finds both… and I hope it takes a good long while.


11.) Performance of the Year:
a. Daniel Craig as James Bond—(007), in QUANTUM OF SOLACE
b. Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, in THE DARK KNIGHT
c. Heath Ledger as the Joker, in THE DARK KNIGHT
d. Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark, aka the Iron Man, in THE IRON MAN
e. Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, in INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL

I don’t often find myself noticing an actor doing his job of portraying a character, and to my mind, that’s not a bad thing. Usually, if I’m taking note of how an actor is performing, that means he’s not doing it very well. The mark of a great actor, at least in my book, is that he becomes the character, as Johnny Depp with Captain Jack Sparrow. Captain Jack bears little resemblance to either Sweeney Todd or Ichabod Crane; though all are Depp, his ability to submerge himself in a role makes each a distinct, and distinctive, characterization. There were several such performances this past year, and I thought I’d take some time to recognize the ones that left a lasting impression on me.

For fans of 007, there’s usually one Bond that stands out as THE Bond. It usually is the one you remember from your first experience with Ian Fleming’s secret agent, the one you’ve known from childhood, and that’s no different for the Unimonster. I liked Moore, even if the plots were a little outlandish; thought Brosnan made perhaps the second best Bond; disliked Dalton, though I must admit he was saddled with abysmal scripts for both his efforts. Even Lazenby was enjoyable in his single outing. But for me, only one actor truly was James Bond, and his name was Connery… Sean Connery.

When Daniel Craig replaced Pierce Brosnan as film’s greatest spy, I was, to say the least, disappointed. As I stated, Brosnan was my second favorite Bond, and his four films had been some of the best in the long run of the series. Craig didn’t look like James Bond, and didn’t act like James Bond, and when I saw CASINO ROYALE for the first time, that disappointment flowered into dislike. Not only was Craig completely unlike any prior Bond, the character was completely off. This was not the suave, sophisticated master spy… Craig’s Bond was little better than a hired gun. A thug with a License to Kill.

But with QUANTUM OF SOLACE, essentially part II of CASINO ROYALE, we begin to see the growth of the character, and of Craig’s ability to portray him. We can now see that perhaps the Bond we’re used to isn’t the Bond that always was, and I can hope for far better things in the future. Craig will never supplant Connery in my opinion… but he’s coming close to edging out Moore.

Another icon of film is the world’s greatest adventuring archaeologist, Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr. In this case, however, there is no confusion: Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones, as well-demonstrated by last year’s return to the role he created in 1981, and last essayed 20 years ago. He returned to the role as easily as a man returns home after a long trip, and looked just as comfortable in it. INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL might have had flaws… but his performance certainly wasn’t one of them.

Robert Downey, Jr. might not be my first choice to play a super-hero… any super-hero. But the casting of him as Tony Stark, an arms dealer-turned-metal encased super-hero named Iron Man, was brilliant. Anyone could have played a super-hero whose face is a metal mask; it’s as Stark that Downey’s able to flex his acting muscles and dominate the screen.

Michael Caine has been high on my list of actors ever since the 1980’s, when he appeared in two of my favorite comedies, BLAME IT ON RIO and DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS. As Alfred Pennyworth, the gentleman’s gentleman to billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, (as well as assistant to Wayne’s alter-ego Batman…) Caine brings a depth and dimension to the role that not even Michael Gough’s excellent performances in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s managed. He makes Alfred more than a mere servant; he is, for all intents and purposes, the only family that Bruce has left… his only connection to his past. He is very much a surrogate father: He loves Bruce; he guides him; and, when necessary, he chastises him. He serves as a grounding rod for Bruce Wayne, and Batman. He keeps what is at best a schizophrenic conflict between the two halves of Bruce’s personality under control and functional. And his performance was one of the most enjoyable aspects of THE DARK KNIGHT.

It is very fashionable, in the wake of his tragic death one year ago, to proclaim Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker as Oscar©-worthy, using any number of superlatives to describe it. While I will not deny it is extremely powerful, and is indeed my choice as Performance of the Year, I feel too much has been made of it. Yes, he does an excellent job of acting… but seriously, had he not died, would he be nominated for an Academy award? If his life had not ended, would critics be hailing it as the ‘performance of a lifetime…’? Have we not seen equally impressive performances go unnoticed simply because the actor survived the production? I don’t wish to take anything away from him, but in this case, as in most, Hollywood seriously needs to gain some perspective.

But my carping has far more to do with the manner in which Hollywood chooses who to honor than it does with the excellence of Ledger’s performance. Is it the best I’ve ever seen? No… I’m not even certain it’s Ledger’s best performance. But for a genre film last year, it was good enough to be the best.


12.) Genre News Event of the Year:
a. The Death of Ben Chapman (The Gill-Man)
b. The Death of Malia Nurmi (Vampira)
c. The Passing of Forry Ackerman
d. THE DARK KNIGHT

Any year is going to see the deaths of many celebrities and, when you narrow the focus to a few discrete genres of fiction, then chances are good that the top news stories are likely to involve the death of someone important to those genres. Such was the case in 2008, as we bid farewell to many of the stars of Sci-Fi and Horror.

It began on the 10th of January, when Malia Nurmi, who thrilled and chilled Southern California audiences in the mid-50’s as the first TV Horror-Host, died at the age of 85. Nurmi, whose sexy siren Vampira became a horror icon, premiered on Los Angeles TV station KABC on April 30th, 1954 with a preview special, and soon regular episodes of The Vampira Show were running on a weekly basis. Though her program was popular, it lasted only a short time, being cancelled in 1955.

Those two seasons were pivotal, and she left a lasting impression on both fans and fellow performers. It launched the tradition of Hosted Horror Movies which would explode following the release of Universal’s classic Horror Films to television stations in the “Shock Theater” package in 1957. Zacherley, Ghoulardi, the original Svengoolie… all owed their existence to Malia Nurmi. She remained an inspiration to many fans, in part giving rise to what evolved into the “Goth” culture of today, and her death marks the passing of an era.

Little more than a month later, on February 21st, the self-described “Real Gill-Man”, Ben Chapman, passed away in a Honolulu Military Hospital at the age of 79. Chapman, a 6-foot, 5-inch former Marine, portrayed the Gill-Man in the above-water sequences in the 1954 Universal classic CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. The role made him a horror icon, but it was his affability and approachability that made him a huge draw on the convention circuit, and endeared him to his fans. For several years he has been a fixture at Horror and Sci-Fi gatherings, one of the few remaining connections to the “Silver Age” of genre films. It is sometimes difficult to remember, as we watch this great film for the umpteenth time, a clear, pristine image from shiny new disc, that it has been nearly 55 years since the Gill-Man first prowled the shores of the Black Lagoon, and stalked a lovely young woman in a luminous white bathing suit. The death of Chapman serves as a stark reminder of that fact.

As far as the world of Horror Fandom was concerned, though, no death struck harder, or hurt more than the death in December of Dr. Acula himself; the man who turned a childhood love of the Fantastic into a life-long calling; a man who had no children of his own but was Uncle to thousands; Forrest J Ackerman.

I’ve already discussed Forry’s death at length here, and repetition serves little purpose other than to refresh the sense of loss. Those who are fortunate enough to have memories of Forry in his heyday will never forget him; those who don’t will never know what they missed.

But the biggest story in Genre news this past year had to be the block-buster success of the Christopher Nolan-helmed Batman picture THE DARK KNIGHT. Earning an astounding $531 Million dollars, nearly twice as much as it’s nearest competition IRON MAN, the film dominated the Summer Box-Office just as the news of star Heath Ledger’s death dominated the news six months before. Though the film received an incredible amount of pre-release hype, this was a case of a movie that had the ‘stones’ to live up to the hype. Nolan, Bale, Ledger, and Eckhart, et al, promised a great movie, and the product that was delivered exceeded everyone’s expectations. That kept audiences flocking to the theaters, and made THE DARK KNIGHT the year’s biggest news event.


13.) What I’m Looking Forward to the Most for 2009:
a. THE WOLF-MAN remake
b. The new STAR TREK from J. J. Abrams
c. HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
d. The Fiftieth Anniversary of Hammer’s THE MUMMY, and the Thirtieth Anniversary of ALIEN

The great Universal Monsters have been enjoying a renaissance of late, ever since Sommers’ reinvention of THE MUMMY launched a flurry of interest in the classic creatures of Horror in the late ‘90’s. Since then we have been treated to new versions of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Werewolf; Universal Studios Home Entertainment has thrown open it’s vaults, releasing all our beloved monsters in multiple DVD sets; and now we await the release of the remake of THE WOLF-MAN, one of the best of the classic Universal Horror Films.

Yes, I have spent nearly this entire column raging against the remaking of movies in principle, and my feelings on the subject haven’t changed simply because they’re Universal properties. When I first heard about this remake I was disappointed and unhappy; THE WOLF-MAN simply did not need remaking, it was perfectly executed in its original form. And I still believe that. But seeing that Universal failed to ask my opinion on the subject, I must admit I’m growing anxious to see the finished project, if only to be proven right.

Another franchise dear to the Unimonster’s heart is Star Trek, and I eagerly await a new mission for the Starship Enterprise. I can’t say that I agree with the decision to revisit the old crew, (I mean, c’mon… Simon Pegg as Scotty??) and Abrams’ past work doesn’t serve to fill me with confidence, but as soon as I saw the first trailer for the film that old urge to “…boldly go where no man has gone before” began to build. I’ve yet to miss seeing a Star Trek film on its opening day, and have no intention of starting now.

Two films of note will be celebrating important Anniversaries this year, Hammer’s spectacular version of THE MUMMY, and the movie that made Outer Space scary again, ALIEN. THE MUMMY was, in this Unimonster’s opinion, the high-water mark of Hammer Films… every facet of the production was the best Hammer could put forth. Directed by Terence Fisher, starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, written by Jimmy Sangster, with make-up by Roy Ashton… each was a master craftsman, and each was at his peak performance.

A mere twenty years later, not too terribly far from the Berkshire home of Hammer’s Bray Studios, a new era in Science-Fiction Horror began with the production of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN. Written by Dan O’Bannon, (who would later write and direct the superb RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD…) the story of a group of spacefarers who find themselves captive with a deadly alien life-form is one of the best Genre films of the ‘70’s, and inspired hundreds of copycats and rip-offs, as well as numerous sequels and two crossovers. Based on 1958’s IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, ALIEN is a claustrophobic, intensely compelling movie, one that leaves an indelible impression on viewers, even thirty years later.

But by a narrow margin, I must say that I’m anticipating the latest entry in the Harry Potter saga the most. While I’ve been a fan of the series since the first film, (frankly, I’ve never read any of the books…) with the last two films I’ve truly begun to appreciate the wisdom of having the storylines, as well as the characters, age with time. These are no longer the same children’s tales the first two films were; fitting, as the characters themselves are no longer children. They are now, for all intents and purposes, adults in their world, and are being forced to confront adult issues and problems… not the least of which is an evil being that wants them dead. Not exactly Winnie-the-Pooh or Where the Wild Things Are, is it?


14.) Crapfest of the Year:
a. TWILIGHT
b. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL
c. SAW V
d. ONE MISSED CALL
e. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON

Any movie that is both a remake of a classic, and a vehicle for Keanu Reeves, is almost doomed from the start to find its way onto this list, and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL certainly meets the criteria. I’ve already discussed in detail just what was so wrong about this movie; in placing it in nomination for Crapfest of the Year, I have but two words to add: Keanu Reeves.

I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I generally object to the practice of remaking foreign films to cater to American audiences. Perhaps this is due to the producers’ desire to use familiar Hollywood actors to attract a larger audience; perhaps it is based on a mistaken belief that Americans won’t go to see a dubbed or subtitled movie. Japanese movies in particular have fallen victim to this practice, with remakes of RINGU; JU-ON; KAÏRO; and now, the thriller CHAKUSHIN ARI receives the Americanization treatment as ONE MISSED CALL. I’ve long been a proponent of J-Horror, finding it far more original and innovative than anything coming from Hollywood. The desire of the film industry here to simply remake these movies is a perfect illustration of that point; why bother to come up with an original concept when you can pilfer someone else’s? In this case, however, they aren’t even remaking good J-Horror, rather a below-average Japanese import. It’s as though a Japanese producer decided to remake FRIDAY THE 13th, Part VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN.

And of course there was another attempt last year to produce an artistic, high-brow Science-Fiction/Fantasy picture. Every few years we have to endure some big-name Hollywood Director and/or Star deciding that good, old-fashioned, alien invasions and space battles are just too much fun, that what the Sci-Fi genre is lacking is three hours of boredom with a depressing message attached. Last year’s effort is THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. Starring Brad Pitt, and directed by David Fincher, this story of a man who was born elderly, only to grow younger as time passes is a plodding tribute to illogic. As an elderly “child”, Button finds himself attracted to an acquaintance; chronologically of similar age, but physically normal as opposed to his aged appearance.

As you might expect, they fade in and out of each others worlds as their apparent ages move closer to each other. I’ll spare you the rest; you can see where things are heading. While this wasn’t the worst example of similar concepts I’ve seen, (actually, the Animated Star Trek episode The Counter-Clock Incident was far more interesting…) it was bad enough. Despite what the critics might think, this movie certainly earned its place on this list.

For the fifth year in a row there was a new installment of the SAW franchise in the theaters at Halloween, and for at least three of those years the franchise has been on a steep downhill slide. The first movie was an original, disturbing, innovative Horror Film. Even the second film was a logical continuation of the first. With the latest entry however, the series is little more than a mockery of its former glory. No longer are these movies original, innovative, or even, quite frankly, disturbing. They are simply tired and repetitious. Something else I sincerely hope they are is over.

But by a healthy margin, (amazing considering the level of competition this time out…) TWILIGHT is the hands-down winner of the title of Crapfest of the Year for 2008. The novel on which the film was based, by Stephanie Meyer, was a runaway best-seller among pre-teen and early teen girls, and that was enough to convince producers that it would make a great movie. Essentially a Harlequin Romance with teen vampires, this film reeked… if you were anyone other than a 13-year old girl. Vampires who don’t drink blood; look pale and anemic; travel about in the daytime; are conflicted emotionally; and pursue ‘romances’ with high school girls… seems to me we used to call such creatures high school boys. Whatever you want to call them, you can call TWILIGHT a total Crapfest.


15.) Movie of the Year:
a. THE DARK KNIGHT
b. INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL
c. HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY
d. THE EYE
e. QUARANTINE

It’s tempting to give the nod to one of the Horror Films that made the cut, as this is, at it’s core, a site devoted to Horror Films. But to be honest, the two films that qualify do so almost by default; they are simply the cream of a very meager crop. THE EYE is surprisingly good; still, it pales dramatically when compared to the Pang Brothers excellent 2002 film JIAN GUI, the Hong Kong import upon which the remake is based. Not even the ever-lovely Jessica Alba can save this movie from the omnipresent Special Effects with which the film is laden down.

QUARANTINE is, without a doubt, a real down and dirty Horror Film, in the style of THE DESCENT or DOG SOLDIERS. It does stand out as a bright spot in a year that was remarkably devoid of such movies. Unfortunately, it can hardly be described as original or groundbreaking, and in a normal year for Horror would fail to make this list.

HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY does deserve consideration, for a number of reasons. The film does live up to the first in terms of visual appeal; Guillermo Del Toro’s a master of imagery, of color, light, and shadow. The script, though not as involving as the first, is still better than could be expected for a sequel. And the performances, especially that of Ron Perlman as Hellboy, are spectacular. Any other year, and this would be an odds-on favorite for Movie of the Year. In this case, however, it had the misfortune of having to compete with two true block-busters.

In May, audiences were treated to the return of one of the most iconic screen characters ever, Indiana Jones, in INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. Though, as described earlier, I felt the film failed to truly live up to it’s potential, it’s still a great thrill ride and a total ‘blast from the past.’ The aging of the character was handled intelligently and naturally, accounting for the space of time since INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE had been released, and Harrison Ford stepped back into the familiar persona of Jones as easily as slipping into an old pair of shoes.

But the undisputed elephant in the cinema this year was Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT. As a life-long follower of the Darknight Detective, I had been somewhat disappointed with BATMAN BEGINS, and with Christian Bale’s portrayal of my favorite super-hero. I had to admit it was better than either Kilmer’s or Clooney’s, but still left much for this Bat-Fan to desire.

This outing, however, Bale somehow managed to find the character of Batman, supplanting Michael Keaton as the definitive Caped Crusader. Add to that the excellent performances of Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as James Gordon, Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, and of course, Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker, and you have the makings of a truly great movie. Throw in an excellent script by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, and more confident direction from Christopher Nolan, and you have what is by far the Movie of the Year for 2008.


So that’s it. 2008 is over and done, and I for one shed no tears for it’s passing. It certainly lived up to it’s billing as a year of change, and not all for the better by any means. Still, life is change, and to go with the flow might not be bad advice for 2009.

So here the Unimonster sits, feet up, three fingers of Glenlivet warming my bones as I watch Boris Karloff do battle with David Manners over the alluring form of Zita Johann. Change may be a necessary thing; it may even, on occasion, be a desirable thing.

But if you ask me, there’s something to be said for timelessness.

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